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Making a living in the world of tourism: Livelihoods in backpacker tourism in urban Indonesia
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Social and Economic Geography.
2008 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

In many ‘Third World’ societies tourism is seen as a force for economic development and socie-tal change. Employment in tourism has increased, new destinations have been drawn into tour-ism circuits, and many ‘Third World’ governments have adopted ‘pro-poor’ tourism policies as part of their poverty reduction strategies. However, the tourism sector appears to be particularly volatile and can be subject to dramatic fluctuations, both in terms of volumes and tourists’ des-tination choices, which means that people working in tourism are exposed to globalising forces and preferences far beyond their control.

The aim of this study is to explore the contents and meanings of work within tourism as narrated by formal and informal tourism workers in an urban backpacker enclave in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. The study is concerned with the ‘receiving end’ of international tourism, and specifi-cally with the experiences of people who make their livelihoods within the low-budget tourism sector, in which ‘Western’ backpackers are key actors.

In this study the tourism phenomenon is seen from the context of global asymmetrical power relations, but social relations at the local level in Yogyakarta city are given centre stage. The social relations that constitute the Sosrowijayan area as a place are complex. While back-packers come to Sosrowijayan in search of cheap tourism facilities, the general public in Yogya-karta construct the area as the centre of prostitution in the city. However, the inhabitants of Sosrowijayan draw boundaries between people and places in very refined ways.

These boundaries are gendered in the sense that above all female sex workers are blamed for the negative perceptions of the area. They are constructed as ‘outsiders’ because of their ‘deviant’ lifestyle and ‘choice’ of occupation (social class) and because they are said to be migrants from other areas in Indonesia. In Sosrowijayan boundary constructions also take place between male tourism workers who claim allegiance to different groups and categories within their profession or livelihood niche. They make distinctions between ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’; the ‘insiders’ are born in the area, while the ‘outsiders’ are narrated as being from other parts of the city, or the country, and/or engage in sexual relations with Western tourists.

The study shows that relations of class, gender, and colonial and/or ‘race’ stereotypes come into play in encounters between tourists and tourist workers. Tourism workers consider themselves to be ‘providers of fun’ which means that they are supposed to meet the needs of the tourists, whatever those needs might be, such as material or sexual. In this relationship the Indonesian tourism workers might be interpreted as the racialised service class that make the backpacker-consumer possible. The study also shows that tourism workers in Sosrowijayan are not only immobile in comparison to the highly mobile backpackers from whom they earn their livelihoods, but also that they are at the receiving end of a type of mobility which is initiated and performed far beyond their control.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Kulturgeografi , 2008. , 180 p.
GERUM, ISSN 1402-5205 ; 2008:2
Keyword [en]
tourism geography, low-budget tourism, tourism work, backpackers, gender, development geography, livelihood, qualitative research, Indonesia, Southeast Asia.
National Category
Human Geography
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-1658ISBN: 978-91-975696-9-9OAI: diva2:141734
Public defence
2008-06-05, S 213 H, Samhällsvetarhuset, 10:15
Available from: 2008-05-15 Created: 2008-05-15Bibliographically approved

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